Negotiating Justice: Local Adjudication and Social Change in Late Imperial China


Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships , Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowships for Recently Tenured Scholars


East Asian Studies


For residence at the Institute for Advanced Study, School of Historical Studies during academic year 2012-2013


Drawing on a large body of little-explored local court records, this project examines how justice was constructed in local adjudication and how justice construction and social change affected each other at times of drastic social change during the last century of Ming dynasty China (1368-1644). Using the perspectives of “encountered cultures” and “negotiated order,” it argues that as creating actors, magistrates and litigants together defined their socio-legal situations and created “situated justice”—a contingent and particularistic legal result based on concrete circumstances. In justice negotiation, while local adjudication defended the dynastic order and facilitated social change, changing society also invested the legal system with new meanings.